One of the reasons people shy away from getting into specialty coffee is that it can be quite daunting to know everything there is to know on the topic. For example, there’s so much to consider, calibrate or keep in mind when brewing pourover. The grind needs to correspond to the brew method. The water temperature needs to be just so. The pour cannot happen too quickly. Nor should it be done too slowly. The list goes on.
But, to me, that’s the beauty of specialty. It asks for your care. Your attention. Your respect. And I like that. My advice if you’re thinking about getting into specialty, and want to learn all there is to know, is this: baby steps. And the first step is choosing quality coffee.
The Specialty Coffee Association created a scoring system for coffee. The score is assigned via a rigorous tasting process (called Coffee Cupping) by qualified tasters (called Q-Graders). The result is a globally recognized benchmark. Coffees that score 90 – 100 are classified as Outstanding. Coffees that score 85 – 89.99 are classified as Excellent. Coffees that score 80 – 84.99 are classified as Very Good.
Coffees that score 80 and up is called Specialty Coffee.
And it’s the score that is at the very heart of one of the exciting new entrants into the UAE specialty coffee scene, 85+ Specialty Coffee. I chatted to one of the founders.
Please introduce the readers to the team.
We are an Egyptian brother and sister duo who care way too much about the quality of our daily coffee cup (read three to four) that we decided to convert as many people as possible with us to the world of specialty coffee. My name is Nouran Amer and in November 2020 I co-founded 85+ Specialty Coffees with my brother Mohammed Seif. He has been in the UAE for nearly a decade now working as an architect, and I moved here in 2014 to pursue a career in economics and public policy advisory – jobs we are both still doing full-time.
Tell us about your business.
85+ Specialty Coffees is an online store with a very specific mission to hand-pick distinct coffees from around the world and introduce them in different formats to this country’s growing community of specialty coffee lovers.
We truly believe that life is too short for bad coffee and so we work tirelessly to curate coffees scoring a Q-grade of at least 85 points, roast them locally, and deliver our freshly roasted beans to your doorstep regardless where you are in the UAE.
It is a business that has been born out of a great love and appreciation for the diversity that specialty coffee adds to our lives, and so we wanted to build something that would caffeinate everyone in a unique way – whether that is someone who is trying specialty coffee for the first time using our drip bags because they don’t have any brewing equipment at home, or the coffee connoisseurs and home baristas who need a source they can trust for consistently high quality coffees – a place they can always come back to and experiment with new origins or new processing methods.
At 85+ Specialty Coffees, we pride ourselves to be one of the few places in the UAE where you can get unique coffees sourced from uncommon regions. Our first single-origin coffees which we sourced directly from our partners in Rwanda and Congo have been a great introduction for many of our customers to the great qualities of African coffees, which they have tried with us for the very first time. Since then, we have introduced hundreds of customers to exquisite coffees from Yemen, Burundi, Ecuador, and other unique origins. We are very excited to continue to explore the world of specialty coffee together by adding more diverse and exclusive origins to our range.
What is your earliest coffee memory?
One of my earliest experiences with specialty coffee in the UAE was at The Espresso Lab in Dubai. It was the first time I went into a coffee shop where the staff talked to me about the origins of this specific coffee I am having and its different tasting notes. It was a place where you could appreciate a quality coffee and talk about factors like roasting, brewing method, and flavour profiles. At the time, this was such a stand-out out from the heavily commercialized coffeeshop industry that fights so hard to sell you a standardized, big cup of coffee that you know nothing about, with a million things offered on the side to “sweeten” it. It was the first time I tasted a coffee which flavour didn’t need enhancing – there was no sugar in sight.
Like most Middle Eastern households, though, my earliest coffee memories revolve around Turkish coffee. Even before I started drinking coffee myself, I remember how learning how to brew the perfect cup of Turkish coffee for the family and for guests coming to our house used to bring me so much joy.
When Mohammed and I moved to the UAE, and started learning more and more about specialty coffee, we became obsessed with improving the quality of our daily coffees and were constantly searching for the best beans and trying to learn how to brew our own coffees at home. Different machines and brewing equipment increasingly crept into our lives. By now I think that between our family’s households, we have more French presses and Espresso machines of different kinds than actual human beings.
What is your opinion on the future of specialty coffee in the UAE?
I feel like that’s one of those trick questions where you don’t know how politically correct you need to be. Don’t get me wrong: the UAE is quite a unique specialty coffee market – definitely one of the world’s best markets. We are lucky to have loads of factors that made it possible for this industry to grow in such an accelerated manner as it has over the past couple of years.
On the one hand, it is a great hub which makes it possible to make the best and most diverse coffees from all around the world available to the local market. A market that truly appreciates a good cup of coffee and has quickly developed an increasingly mature and sophisticated appetite.
On the other hand, though, I believe this growth should not be taken for granted. With time, the market will stabilize and while it may have been relatively easy to enter this growth phase, it will become challenging to remain relevant for the community and sustainable as a business. A lot of trends come and go and sometimes even dominate the industry for some time, but over the long term, when they fade away (and they will), I believe it will be key to stay grounded and true to the core of where it all started – the quality and the value of the coffee we all appreciate.
How do you spend your private time?
Since we both still have our full-time jobs, and since the business is still quite young, a large part of our private time is actually spent working on the business – picking out new coffees, creating educational content, and forming new and exciting partnerships to increase the reach of our brand to as wide a community as possible.
When I am not working on the business, I like to get active and always do something physical, so in a typical working week you will find me doing CrossFit or weightlifting, and in my holidays I like to travel for outdoor adventures both within and outside of the UAE. I love the mountains and I am a certified scuba diver, so during any given holiday I prefer to be off-grid somewhere in the world, either climbing a mountain or hanging out in the underwater world.
Anything else we should know?
We recently launched our first fermented coffee from Colombia (“Pera”) which we are quite excited about. It truly is a treat for people who like to experiment with their coffees – these are beans that have undergone 48 hours of fermentation, resulting in a very rich and complex cup, full of floral fragrances and sweet honey and orange notes. It is the fruit of another direct partnership we have with the farmers in Tolima, Colombia, which is our favourite way of sourcing our coffees (even if not the easiest), as it helps us ensure that the coffee is of the highest quality and that fair trade practices are maintained at the origin. It also maximizes the return that eventually goes back to the farmers which makes it a win-win for all of us.
Another exciting update is that we have recently expanded our deliveries to the wider GCC region. So if you’re reading this from anywhere in the region outside the UAE, we have now made it possible to deliver our unique coffees to your doorstep as well.
Do you take the coffee score into account when you buy coffee?